Saturday, July 27, 2019

10 Blessings on the 10th Anniversary

Today marks ten years since Micah’s death.  On this 10th anniversary, Heather and I thought we would share ten ways in which Micah’s short life and sudden death continue to impact us, even ten years later. 

We can have certainty in our eternal destination.   Before Micah died, I never gave much consideration to whether young children are saved.  But when Micah died, it was no longer an abstract question. I jumped into the deep end of the theology pool to ascertain what the Bible says about the eternal destination of those who, like Micah, died before reaching an age of individual responsibility.  Having spent a considerable amount of time researching the question, I came away not only certain of my own son’s eternal destiny, but also continue to benefit from the certainty of my own salvation.  Both Micah and I are saved for all eternity by the blood of Jesus Christ, and nothing I do, or Micah didn’t do, can take away from that salvation.  For it is by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one can boast.”  Ephesians 2:8,9.  Some of us try to “justify” ourselves by our balance sheets, our achievements, or the number of “good works” that we complete in our lives.  God saved Micah for the pure pleasure of demonstrating his superseding power and goodness, juxtaposed against the self-righteousness of those who think they can personally achieve moral standing before Him by good works.   Paul says, “….God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”  1 Corinthians 1:26-31.  The assurance of Micah’s salvation is a great promise for each of us that our own eternal destination is independent of our moral acts, and for that all of us have reason to be thankful. 

Suffering redefines “our good” from God’s perspective, not ours. Be very careful about quoting Romans 8:28 flippantly to anyone enduring great suffering.  In that verse, Paul tells us, “And we know that all things work together for good, who have been called according to his purpose.”  When your son dies, your dreams die along with him.  If we flippantly encourage parents with promises based upon an improvement in their circumstances, such as, “don’t worry, you’ll have more children,” or “the pain will get easier,” or “just think positive,” we miss the point of the passage.  God didn’t allow the death of our son to improve our circumstances, but to achieve God’s purposes for us.  In the words of a friend, Romans 8:28 is not for “our best life now” (yes, think Joel Osteen) but “our best life later, much later, as in all of eternity.”  What we believe to be good is not necessarily God’s best for us.  This discovery of God’s best may be painful, and may seem to lead in all sorts of painful, circuitous paths, but we can trust that it is ultimately for our good.

God uses suffering to give us an eternal perspective. If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not things that are on earth.” Colossians 3:1-4. Regardless of what interests and background we have, we tend to surround ourselves with people who think the same way we do, value the same things we do, and reinforce for us, in our own minds, that same value system.  Workplace accolades, financial rewards, and other life circumstances are what I call the “idols of the immediate.” I often wonder how much of what we consider “important” in our minds or our own social circles are just these idols of the immediate—that is, empty promises of satisfaction that, if followed wholeheartedly throughout a lifetime, will only lead to disillusionment and then ultimately destruction.  A continuing, ongoing blessing from Micah’s death is that it is such much easier to pick up on those idols of the immediate and reject them for what they are, and then refocus our lives and energies where they ought to be--on the eternal. I’m certain that, in the absence of Micah’s death, Heather and I would be more closely tied, in heart, thought and action, in achieving what we want on this life, the idols of the immediate, the “things on this earth.” For us, Micah’s death meant that we could more easily focus on matters of eternal significance.

God gives us daily sustaining grace to meet each day’s trials. In those first few weeks following Micah’s death, we could not fathom thinking to the future.   Every hour seemed to be a chore;  it was too much to bear to think of the future that lay ahead.  If we were to pull forward the sufferings that we know we were to endure in the future, we could not possibly hope to endure.  But God gives us sufficient grace today to meet today’s promise, promises to meet tomorrow’s problems with the future grace he will provide. “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope; The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”  Lamentations 3:21. We cannot now see the thousands of interim blessings that God will provide each day, every day, until we see Jesus.  Who can predict what little encouragements--the emails, phone calls, times together with family and friends -- will arise in the meantime, as an answer to prayer, to provide us with the grace that we need to endure? 

Praise God when you are in the sanctuary, because it pays off when you are in the dark.  In Psalm 63, David writes, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because you steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.” Psalm 63:1-3What kept David’s faith alive through difficult days was a reflection upon all that God had done for him in the past and to trust that God would similarly use the present sufferings for his ultimate good. David’s reflections upon certain past blessings (his time spent “in the sanctuary”) keep him going through difficult days. For us, it can be the memory of past experiences, when we are walking along the mountaintops of life, in the sunshine with God, that could maintain our faith in a good and sovereign God even through the dark valleys of life. God gave us great days with Micah, as he does now with our living children.  If we were to continually remind ourselves of these past experiences of God in our life, resulting in blessings to us both large and small, then we should be able to keep praises of God “continually on our mouths.” (Psalm 34:1). Then, when nothing seems to be going right in life, we can bring these blessings to mind, and use them as footholds of faith when we otherwise can’t see the benefits of suffering. 

God’s plans for us are beyond tracing out.  We were not able to become parents as quickly as we hoped.  Then, when Micah died, we wondered in light of our previous infertility issues if we would ever have children.  Given what we knew, we had no reason to believe that we would be parents.  Quite unexpectedly, our second son Owen was born within a year of Micah’s death.   Micah’s death, coupled with the other circumstances surrounding Owen’s birth, made it clear to us that God’s hand was clearly in all these circumstances.  Which makes us wonder, what unexpected results will come from our current sufferings?  What will God accomplish through our parenting blunders, our breast cancer, our health setbacks, and other difficulties?  Oh the depth of the riches and of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgements, and his paths beyond tracing out!  Romans 11:33.

God uses the humble encouragement of fellow believers.  In the past few years, Heather and I have been so encouraged by the humility and sacrifice of many friends.  These friends have demonstrated the type of love that Paul refers to when he says, “…do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others more significant than yourselves.” Philippians 2:3.  Some acquaintances like to tell us what we should do; others don’t want to make the commitment to take the time to listen.  One of the striking characteristics in our friends is the humility involved in ministering to us.  It is a difficult, exhausting, and time-consuming task to sit across the table from someone who needs to be heard. Humility is telling a friend “I don’t know how I can help you, but I’m here to be quiet, sit with you, listen, and then pray together.”  What a blessing to have friends who have the humility to encourage us at great personal cost.

As Christians, we can live simultaneously in both joy and sorrow.  In Paul's words, we are " sorrowful, yet always rejoicing." 2 Corinthians 6:10. While the waves of grief are shallower, and less frequent, then they were a few years ago, we continue to grieve. We face the realities of death "head on," not ignoring grief, or pretending that grief does not significantly impact us in so many ways. From the outside, our lives are filled with many good things, and have the opportunity to take joy in our children. But the absence of our oldest son from our family creates a "hole" in our lives and in our affections. No matter how otherwise "happy" we think we can be, we recognize that we will never be truly satisfied on this side of eternity. It will not be until we see Jesus that these "holes" will be filled. For this reason, Paul can say that any Christian, regardless of his or her circumstances, can be rejoicing, since one's ultimate source of happiness and joy comes from our relationship with Jesus. For us, and I know for many other grieving parents, the ongoing blessing of a "missing" child is the continual reminder that this world is not our true home, and that we long for that day when we will be welcomed home. Until that day, we look ahead in both sorrow and joy.

Only God provides a sure foundation for our future. Just a few days before Micah died, Micah was a happy and perfectly healthy little boy.  We had no reason to believe that Micah would be taken from us so suddenly.  Our son’s death showed us that we are impotent to control our future, and the future of our children.   In Psalm 73, the Psalmist is initially frustrated by the apparent physical and financial prowess of the godless people around him in light of his own suffering. And then, after entering into worship and prayer with God, he was able to re-center his affections in God. "Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." Psalm 73:25-26. When suffering through the death of a child, facing financial or career difficulties, or enduring health challenges, we remember that we are “a mist that appears for a time and then vanishes.”  James 4:13-15. Our sufferings educate us as to the temporal duration of any source of stability and significance outside of Christ, and point us to the only true source of eternal stability. 

We should “seize the day” and enjoy our family for God’s glory. As each of our three living children passed the 9 month mark, which corresponded with the length of Micah’s earthly lifetime, we took special note of each of them.  Each of them looked so much the same as Micah at that age: the wide grin, the blue eyes, the near-white blonde hair. They were (at the time!) gentle in spirit, pleased to just giggle and take all of life in. Our earthly lifetimes are certainly too short of a timeframe to begin to understand all of the possible ramifications of each of our lives, including Micah’s. But I am increasingly certain of one implication, to me personally, of Micah’s death. I am so grateful, and so appreciative to God, for every waking moment with living kids. “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” Psalm 8:3-4. Who are we to receive these blessings from God? Everything is grace. Nothing is deserved. Everything is extra. Nothing is owed to me. Will you give your living kids an extra hug, knowing what an extra privilege you have to parent living children?  Carpe Diem, I say, but to the Glory of God.